Ding Dong (a festive horror story by David Lemon)

David Lemon is the screenwriter behind the movies Faintheart and and Containment. You can learn more about David in our interview HERE. For now though, settle in and enjoy this creepy Christmas tale…

Black-Christmas-eye

It was that sluggish time; after Boxing day but not yet New Years’ Eve. A time that didn’t even have a name. ‘Post Christmas? Pre- New Year’s Eve?’ Maybe he could give it a name and brand it in some way?

Harry knocked back another Baileys, then he dozed off during a Christmas TV compilation of the best previous TV compilations. One moment a popular stand up comedian was laughing at the ‘so 1996’ jumper a different comedian had been wearing while he told us about a popular Christmas TV special from the 70s.

Then came a clip of now dead comedians dancing with some newsreaders- also now dead. The cavalcade of festive cheer bled one into the other, just like the minutes, hours and days.

Harry prided himself on having what he thought of as a ‘stylish and compact’ Christmas. This year, he’d got through the obligatory round of visits to his remaining relatives in record time.

The downhill toboggan run of his Dad’s dementia meant that it made no difference whether Harry spent an afternoon or a minute with him, of if he skipped the care home altogether. This suited Harry just fine. At this time of year, that place became even grimmer than usual. For him, the tinsel strewn zimmer frames and forced festive singalongs suggested a battle of wills between Father Christmas and death itself- and it was clear who was winning.

Harry’s sister Stacey was on double time at the hospital so she wouldn’t be expecting him at all. His PA sent her a voucher and card, just as she did for Harry’s staff. Harry considered himself a good boss. He had even – albeit reluctantly – sprung for a Christmas party. They were, after all, a Public Relations company and what would constitute worse ‘PR’ then getting a reputation as a miser? It could even suggest that they were doing badly and couldn’t afford a Christmas party. No, he’d just have to take the hit. Maybe he could write it off as a charity thing?

Harry didn’t attend the office party. He never did. Seeing his employees drink his profits then tell him what they really thought of him wasn’t his idea of a good time. He could always find out on the grapevine then sack them in the New Year.

No, Harry did the same thing that he did every year. He told them he was jetting off to somewhere hot. He’d post a few humorous tweets about eating Turkey sandwiches on the beach and no-one would be any the wiser.

Harry reached for the quality street. Despite his many successes- re-branding companies who used child labour, cleaning up the reputations of some of the sporting world’s most enthusiastic rapists- and the wealth that followed, he never acquired a ‘high end’ palate. He still liked the milky cheap chocolate he grew up with; not that bitter, fair trade artisan shit.

He also liked to plunge his hand in blind. Fuck looking in the little booklet first. Harry sighed. Another toffee penny. He felt sure they put in more each year. Maybe he could get his PA to look into it?

No matter. He’d stocked his penthouse apartment with everything the internet could offer the comfortably off, fifty something freshly divorced head of a leading PR company. In fact, his position meant that most of the food, drink and pornography he was looking forward to came for free. Even his tree- an eight footer with tasteful discreetly expensive hand blown glass ornaments – was a gift; delivered and decorated in his absence.

‘No effort or thought required’, as his sister might say.

When she wasn’t emptying bed pans and generally being a martyr, Stacey used to lecture Harry on the ‘obscenity’ of his lifestyle. Harry always hated it when she did this. She stopped being so overt after he offered to pay for Dad’s care, but the disapproval was still there, lurking behind every passive aggressive text and voice message.

The bell rang. Harry jumped, spilling Baileys over the tasteful cashmere sweater he’d treated himself to. No ‘office joker’ novelty jumper for him.

He left that to the younger ‘creatives’ he employed; bearded types who hid whatever genuine opinions they held behind a thick veil of irony.

Harry waited. Silence. He turned down the TV then opened a green triangle. The bell rang again. Who could it be? No-one knew he was still at home. He’d given strict instructions to the concierge to only let anyone up if: a) they had a delivery or b) they were one of his three preferred Latvian prostitutes.

Then, a man started to sing. Weak, tuneless, hopeless:

            ‘It’s Christmas Time, there’s no need to be afraid…’

Harry seethed. Jesus. Who goes around singing Carols after Christmas Day? And since when has that song been a carol? It wasn’t as if he liked the traditional ones, but Jesus.

It’s Christmas Time, there’s no need to be afraid…’

‘Great,’ thought Harry. He doesn’t even know the rest of the lyrics’.

It’s Christmas Time, there’s no need to be afraid…’

Harry considered flinging open the door and giving the tuneless Caroller the full ‘reality show judge’ treatment. Harry had always taken pride in his ability to verbally take people apart, whether it was that bully in secondary school, the ‘creative’ who failed to deliver on an ad campaign or one of the endless stream of shaking runners who delivered his morning coffee.

Harry stood up, then paused. That weak quavering voice- which was still tunelessly repeating the same line- didn’t mean that its owner was weak. They could be some twitchy feral junkie. They could have a knife, or a gun. Such was the price to pay for living in an ‘edgy, urban, up and coming’ area.

Harry sat back. ‘Fuck him. If he keeps at it I’ll get security. Harry turned up the volume. The stars of a leaked sex tape were talking about ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’. Harry perused the channel guide. An infinity loop of crap.

            ‘It’s Christmas Time, there’s no need to be afraid…’

Harry tried to focus on the TV, but however loudly he turned up the volume, that reedy, wavering voice somehow cut through. He considered another Baileys, or that whiskey he’d been saving.

            ‘It’s Christmas Time-

Harry marched to the door and opened it. It was only whilst flinging it open that the realised that, in his anger, he hadn’t checked the spyhole. There could be anyone on the other side.

The hypothetical junkie. Or a whole gang of them…

‘Look mate. I’m not interested-‘

The hallway was empty. Harry closed the door and rang down to the concierge. A thick foreign accent. Harry couldn’t place it but he’d never been bothered enough to ask.

‘Yes, Sir?’

‘Have you let anyone up?’

‘No Sir’.

‘You sure?’

‘Yes, Sir. I have your instructions and the names of your friends: Kristina, Irena and-’

‘How long have you been on?

‘Since 7 am this morning. If I’m honest I’m very much looking forward to going home. It really is a time for family, is it not-?’

Harry hung up. That too-late tone-deaf Caroller had ruined his whiskey and cream stupor. He sat back down. Switched off the TV. Harry stared at the matt black screen. Then noticed two things in rapid succession. The first was that his 52 inch plasma screen wasn’t nearly as ‘non reflective’ as advertised. He could see himself sitting in his calfskin recliner quite clearly.

The second was that someone was now standing behind him. Someone tall, thin and pale, wearing a snowman jumper. Fear filled Harry’s chest, pressing on his ribs. It was a dread that rose through his neck and into his skull and his ears. A ringing, cold, throat tightening sensation.

Harry span round. He let out what he hoped would be a fearsome roar but all that came out was high and strained. The sound reminded me of a boy at school who once bet he could leap over a railing but only managed to impale his scrotum.

The figure had gone. Harry took a moment to remember to breathe.
Fear gave way to anger; anger that someone should break into his home; his haven from all the tedious colleagues, guilt tripping siblings and drooling Dads of this world.

‘I’ll call the police!’ he shouted at the wall of books he’d bought in a short lived attempt at self improvement. Then, from nowhere:

It’s Christmas Time, there’s no need to be afraid…’

‘Is that supposed to scare me? You… prick!’

Harry winced at ‘prick’. He was normally so good with words. After all, he started in copywriting and prided himself on always choosing the punchiest, most persuasive words. ‘Prick’ was too weak. It made him sound weak.

‘Okay, final warning. Show yourself!’

Silence. Harry stood for a few minutes, then finally sat. He considered calling the police, but what could he report? That he might have seen something? Maybe it was the drink, or a batch of bad coke or a dodgy Viagra? Maybe it was all three?

He switched the TV back on. Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Harry watched, his heartbeat lowering.

Then he saw him on the TV. Standing behind Bing and Bowie, staring straight at him. Harry changed the channel. A shopping network selling sparkly tat to lonely shut-ins – but behind the presenters, staring directly into camera, the same skinny man, mouthing the same words, over and over:

It’s Christmas Time, there’s no need to be afraid…’

Harry flicked the remote, again and again. No matter what was on – the news, football, a repeat of Downton Abbey- the man in the snowman jumper was there. No-one else on screen seemed to know he was there. It was as if he was following Harry through the post Christmas, pre-new year schedule. But why?

Harry checked sniffed his Baileys. Had someone spiked it? Maybe it had been sent by the rival PR company he’d once badmouthed to a major client, guaranteeing their downfall? Or maybe a secret society of former runners, plotting some elaborate revenge?

Whatever it was, Harry knew one thing: he had to get out of there. Harry tried the remote, but the TV stayed on. Harry kicked the TV. It took a couple of goes, but down it went with a dull crack.

He was about to head for the door when he heard something behind him.

Someone breathing. A wheezy, bronchial moan.

‘It’s Christmas Time…’

Harry turned. There, standing just a couple of feet away, was the Caroller. His skin fish belly white, hair lank and greasy, eyes bloodshot and blank. At such close quarters, the snowman on his wacky jumper a filthy grey and stained with something dark and red.

Harry backed away. ‘Who are you?’ ‘What do you want?’

The Caroller stepped forward. Harry backed away; tripping over presents from his ‘friends’ within the PR industry and shattering a framed photo from Stacey of Harry aged 8 being taken to his first football match by his Dad.

Harry felt the expensive fir tree press into his back. A hand blown glass ornament fell to the floor, shattering with a festive tinkle. Then he realised he was still holding the corkscrew.

He raised it to take a swing at the Caroller and engage in the first physical fight of his adult life.

Adrenalin fizzed through Harry. Maybe he could win? He could even parlay it into a ‘have a go hero defeats home invasion’ story. They always played well…

-But Harry’s arm remained frozen above his head. Something was holding him back. He looked up. A thick rope of tinsel was now wrapped around his wrist, pulling him back towards the tree.

He tried to grab at with his free arm, but now his other arm and both ankle were also snared; wrapped in a thick string of tacky lights.

Where had they come from? They weren’t on his tree. They were the sort of pound shop crap his sister or parents had years ago; back before Mum got ill. A wave of guilt washed over him.
Maybe he could have done more, but Stacey was always better at that sort of thing. Anyway, it was his money that kept her going as long as she did.

‘Are you… do you want me to repent? Is that it? Look, I know the story. It’s a good story. A classic. We used it in a campaign once. Always plays well with – Unnghff!

Harry’s sentence ended that way because The Caroller had shoved a fistful of Toffee Pennies in his mouth, wrappers and all. The tinsel and lights tightened, pulling Harry back, back into the dense scratching pine needles, further and further, into darkness…

                                                                        ***

 He waited outside the woman’s flat while she worked her way through a bottle of champagne that had cost the same as his first car. He knew he had to knock on her door and sing, but he didn’t know why.

There was a lot he didn’t know. Who he was, for a start. Sometimes, a name would come to him. Harry? Larry? Then he’d forget again. He only woke up at this time of year. The rest of the year was nothing; blank and black. For him, every day was Christmas, or thereabouts.

His eyes widened. A memory. A song. A mad looking man singing a song about how he wished it could be Christmas every day, surrounded by kids in seventies clothes. His mind tried to reach for it, but then in vanished, like so many memories before it.

Harry- or what was left of him- smoothed down his Christmas pudding jumper and rang the doorbell. He took a deep breath, although technically he had long since stopped breathing.

This song had high notes he had no hope of reaching, but something told him he should at least try.

 ‘I don’t want a lot for Christmas…’


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